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The worth of a book is to be measured by what you can carry away from it. - James Bryce
Dora's life has changed so completely she could almost have be an entirely different person now from the ones she once was. As a child she had parents who were either absent, alcoholic or curiously odd, or sometimes all three. She grew up to marry an intellectually challenged jock, and then traded him in for a devilishly handsome successful Hollywood player. You could say her life was on the up, and she had managed to escape the legacy of her past, to do something good with her life. But, as the book begins, we find a different Dora from any of the ones described here. She's now separated from husband number two, unemployed and rapidly burning a huge hole in her trust fund as she wallows around her apartment, rarely venturing out. So far this could be the plot of half a dozen chick flicks or trashy novels, give or take a few details. What makes Dora different, however, is the books. The many, many books she surrounds herself with, fills her apartment with and uses as cheap therapy when the going gets tough. The whole story has a literary influence and it adds an unusual, quirky slant.
One of the first things to strike me about this book was that it was written by two authors. Now one of my all time favourite books, 'The Nanny Diaries') is a dual-writer affair, but still, it is a bit unusual in my mind for two, unrelated people to get together and write a single book between them. I can honestly say, however, that you couldn't tell this book had two people's input. It didn't seem disjointed in anyway, or as if it flitted from one voice to another. And, one thing I'm sure was aided by the fact that there were two authors, was the huge number of book references, and most appropriately placed book references at that. If you're a keen reader, think of all the books you've read, and more importantly, those you haven't. Now imagine getting together with a fellow bibliophile and compiling a list of all those books you could talk about in detail. The combined list would be much more immense than if you were doing this exercise on your own and that's clearly taken advantage of in this book.
Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled "This could change your life." - Helen Exley
I love the way other books, authors and the general literary world seep into the structure of this story. Every chapter starts with a quote, some profound, and some less so, but all fantastically well matched to what is coming up over the next few pages. With some I knew only the speakers before hand, and some I didn't know at all, but several I will now be memorising to spit out at opportune moments. Then there's the actual extracts from and references to famous books and story tellers within the chapters. Everyone from Dr Seuss and A.A. Milne to Harper Lee and Emily Brontë get mentioned in passing, and you can tell that the authors themselves are well read and have a love for reading which really shines through. For me, the huge bonus with this book, as well as being an entertaining read, is that it pointed me in the direction of some other titles I might like and new authors to discover.
Most things about this book I really liked: I found the characters likable, the emotions raw and real and the plot enticing and unpredictable enough to keep me hooked, without it getting too far fetched. I liked the way Dora evolved over the book and I liked the way that my preconceived ideas of her were challenged - she didn't end up being the weak, feeble girl I thought she was going to be. The only thing I was disappointed by was the number of book references because I actually thought there would be a few more. Instead, there are a few stretches which are quite sparse, and then a flood come along at once. Still, for a book with just over 300 pages, to have over 225 references is pretty good going.
After the story ends, there are some bonuses if you keep reading. Though these wouldn't appeal to everyone (much like the extras on a DVD), it's interesting to read the Q&A and profiles on the authors, and to see how much of the literary quiz you can get right (shockingly little in my case - I'm much more well up on Sophie Kinsella or Jodi Picoult than Dickens or Austen).
Overall I did enjoy this book though I find it interesting that the topic and style mean it could never possibly be considered one of the 'greats' despite Dora's inclination towards these. An easy, beach read which doesn't require you to think too much, but which is pleasant nonetheless.
As Book Lover first hit the shelves back in 2007, it's now nice and cheap in lots of places, and if you can't find it in a charity shop (though I think every one in Manchester has a copy) have a look online. But be warned, it may make you want to buy another dozen books after reading it, which as I'm finding from reading reviews on Dooyoo, can be a dangerous and expensive thing.
An earlier version of this review first appeared on www.TheBookbag.co.uk